As the Representative from the 7th Congressional District in Washington I try to live and act according to the words and wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi who said: "Be the change you want to see in the world."
In the current Congress, I am privileged to serve my constituents as Chairman of the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee. I think of it as the social safety net subcommittee because our focus is on vulnerable children and families and on the programs and policies meant to give all Americans a fair shake and a helping hand when they need one.
Recently, at my request, I asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to produce an independent report that examined the question of whether our existing unemployment insurance safety net does a good job in helping American workers who lose their jobs.
I had my suspicions beforehand, but I found the GAO report disturbing to say the least.
In a nutshell, GAO reported that a declining number of jobless Americans are helped by the unemployment insurance system as it exists today. The report shows that low-wage workers are only one-third as likely to receive unemployment benefits as higher-wage workers, even though they are much more likely to be unemployed. What's more, women are especially hard hit because they make up two-thirds of the part-time work force.
We have a gaping hole in our social safety net, and Americans are falling through it when they fall on economic hard times. This is wrong and we need to do something about it in Congress as quickly as possible. In many ways I believe that part of my role as subcommittee chairman is to preserve the vision and protect the legacy of one of our nation's greatest presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
FDR believed in America and the American people and his optimism never wavered. The darkest days of the Great Depression were no match for the glistening sunrise of FDR's vision of a courageous and hopeful nation. In the face of adversity, FDR planted the seeds for prosperity and he vowed that Americans would stand together in good times and bad. He worked with Congress to weave an economic social safety net that included the creation of unemployment insurance as part of his New Deal.
President Roosevelt's New Deal symbolized America at its best, one nation watching out for one another. Seventy years later, not to merely honor FDR's vision, but to act as guardians of the faith and the trust that he restored in America, I believe it is time to meet the dawn of a new century with the bright light of courage and optimism from the last century. We cannot promise that you will never feel the pain of economic hard times, but we should promise that you will not face it alone.
With this in mind I have introduced H.R. 2233 to modernize the unemployment insurance program. A companion bill (S. 1871) has been introduced in the Senate. The New York Times recently endorsed my legislation with a strongly worded editorial. A number of nonprofit and citizen organizations across the country that represent millions of Americans have come out in support of the legislation. It is my hope that my hometown newspapers, including Real Change, demand real change in the nation's unemployment insurance program, because all of the American people, especially those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder, deserve the strength of a nation ready to extend a helping hand in time of need. I believe that government can be a force of good in our lives and in the world. No one proved that more dramatically than Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There are those who would like us to forget that. We must not. There are those who believe that America is a place where you are on your own. I believe that America is a nation founded on the common good to serve we the people. When hardships and suffering afflict any American, all of America suffers.
President Roosevelt said: "In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or else all go down as one people."
The 21st century offers great promise, but we will ultimately succeed in the future by relying on the great optimism FDR established in the not-too-distant past. America weaved social safety nets because we recognized that what happened to one American mattered to all Americans.
Rep. Jim McDermott represents the Seventh District, covering Vashon Island and most of Seattle.